My knees trembled as I walked them to the door. I hadn't slept in days, had hardly eaten and had probably not spoken a word during the entire time that they were there. My heart was weeping, but my eyes had no more tears to spare. I felt numb. Drained. Angry. My uncle hugged me, but received nothing in return. I just stood there, in the doorway where I'd said so many hellos and goodbye, paralyzed by grief, waiting for it to be over. As he held out his hand to his daughter - his youngest, then 3 years old - she jumped up and flung her arms around my legs. "I want to stay with you forever!" she whispered.
I don't remember if I cried. In all honesty, I don't remember much of those days between 2004 and 2005. But I remember that word echoing in my ear - "forever" - and I remember how my heart poured over and broke. I remember how happiness and sadness intertwined in a moment of sheer, excruciating beauty. No, not remember. Feel.
As I was researching this recipe, I came across this old post on Happyolks. The photographs, with their beautiful figs, warm colors and deep shadows, had lured me in. But I wasn't prepared for the words that followed it. Much like a sudden whiff of a familiar smell, they grabbed me with an intensity of feeling that I only seldom experience, conjuring up everything that I keep tucked away in the deep crevices of my heart. I read and reread Kelsey's first paragraph, over and over again, simultaneously replaying that short little moment in my parents' doorway, smiling as I was trying to ward off the tears. And I felt happy. Peaceful. Thankful.
Our lives are never what we expect them to be. They are messy and fraught with obstacles. Pain is inevitable. But if we're lucky, if we learn how to embrace it, pain is what makes us grow. What teaches us how to feel and what allows us to love. I know my 19-year-old self would not have believed me if I told her she would one day look back at Bert's death with kindness and acceptance - she would not have wanted to -, but I am so very grateful that I do. I am grateful that my rage has made room for a generosity of spirit and a sensitivity to beauty and I am so incredibly grateful that I can cry and smile at the memory of my niece's words, as well as at those of a grown woman whom I've never met, shouting "you are the most beautiful princess I have ever seen!"
• This recipe is for a no-churn ice cream, which means that you don't need an ice cream maker and that it comes together in mere minutes. All you need is a little patience while waiting for it to freeze.
• Be sure to cut the figs into relatively small pieces, about 1.5 cm/0.5 inch. The skins won't break down during the cooking process, so you want these pieces to be bite-size to start with. Larger pieces, when frozen, will be difficult and unpleasant to eat.
• Fresh and ripe figs will release enough juices to make the jam, so there really is no need to add a lot of extra liquid. You can add a little extra lemon juice or water if you deem it necessary, but remember that the jam should be sticky and thick, not runny.
no-churn fig swirl ice cream
fig swirl adapted from Happyolks
makes about 1 pint
for the fig swirl
30 g unsalted butter
100 g dark brown sugar
400 g fresh figs, cut into small pieces
2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
for the ice cream base
500 ml heavy cream
1 can (340 ml) sweetened condensed milk
for the fig swirl
1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and stir until all the sugar has melted. Add the figs, lemon juice and salt and allow to cook until you have a thick, chunky jam. Stir frequently.
2. Transfer fig jam to a clean bowl and allow to cool completely.
for the ice cream
1. In a medium bowl, or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat heavy cream to stiff peaks. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk by hand until fully combined.
2. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cooled fig jam, making sure it is evenly distributed, but leaving a few streaks.
3. Transfer ice cream mixture to a freezer-safe container. Wrap tightly with cling film and aluminum foil and freeze for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.